Adopting a vegetarian diet means avoiding meat, fish, poultry, and other products containing these ingredients, like gelatin or rennet.
This means a vegetarian diet predominantly comprises fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy, and legumes.
There are a couple of other variations of vegetarianism, where some people may exclude dairy products but allow eggs, or vice versa. This often relates to personal preferences, but individuals would still refer to themselves as vegetarians.
Top 10 Foods that Vegetarians Eat:
1. Vegetables & Fruits
Vegetables and fruits are staples of a vegetarian lifestyle, but other foods make up this diet. There is usually a focus on ensuring individuals are eating enough protein.
Legumes, which include beans, peas, and lentils, are carbohydrate-heavy but contain an excellent source of lean protein. They also contain iron, calcium, fiber, and antioxidants and help to lower cholesterol and the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Legume products can be used in apparent recipes such as bean burgers, bean chilies, or salads, as well as things within things like hummus, which contains chickpeas, or even in brownies using black beans.
3. Nuts & Seeds
Incorporating nuts, seeds, and legumes into a vegetarian diet is a great way to provide essential nutrients.
Nuts and seeds are an excellent source of protein and an even better source of healthy fats, including mono and polyunsaturated plant oils. They are calorie-dense, which means they are a good way to ensure you meet your calorie goals and do not under-eating when transitioning to this diet.
Generally, eggs and dairy products like milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt are included in a vegetarian diet, which sets it apart from veganism. It allows for more varied meals and more options when eating in restaurants, as they are key ingredients for many recipes.
Eggs offer many nutritional benefits as they are a great source of protein and provide essential vitamins like D and B12 and minerals like calcium. They are also incredibly versatile and can be the central part of a dish, like in an omelet or scrambled eggs, or even an ingredient in a recipe like pasta, shakshuka, or when baking cakes.
Various dairy products, with many different kinds of cheese, cream, and milk, are used in almost every aspect of the cooking process. They contain high calcium levels, are a substantial source of fat, and contain protein; milk whey is a significant component in many protein powders.
If lactose intolerance is a concern, vegetarians can choose to eat goat cheese or sheep cheese like feta, as these are usually better tolerated by the body because of the lower levels of lactose.
6. Plant Meat
Many brands create imitation meat products, like Tofurky, Quorn, Impossible, and Beyond Meat. These can be made of many different types of plant protein, but generally, it is soy-based, as this is the most accessible and neutral-tasting option.
7. Fake Meat
Vegetarians often incorporate fake meat into their diet, allowing them to enjoy their favorite meals, like burgers or sausages, but continue to eat plant-based foods. Some of these products can contain additives or a long list of ingredients, making them not necessarily the healthiest choice.
Both products are made from soybeans, but tofu is created from pressed soy milk, whereas tempeh is made from fermenting the soybeans, resulting in different flavors and textures. Tofu can range from soft to firm in texture and generally has a mild taste that easily soaks up flavor.
Tempeh, conversely, has a distinct nutty or earthy flavor and is usually quite chewy as it contains whole beans. This means they both have very different uses, as tofu is very versatile and can be used to make soft cheesecakes or crunchy deep-fried pieces that marinate in a curry. In contrast, tempeh is usually used directly as a meat substitute.
Tofu and Tempeh are excellent protein sources, with one serving of tofu having 8 grams of protein and tempeh having 16 grams and being high in fiber.
Tempeh has various natural benefits, such as containing many prebiotics, while tofu offers higher calcium levels.
Tofu and Tempeh products are grouped together due to their similar base ingredient. Still, they should be incorporated into a vegetarian diet and used in different meals to provide well-roundedness.
A natural option you can buy in shops or even make at home is Seitan, made from wheat gluten, the protein within wheat.
Making seitan involves mixing wheat flour and water, then kneading until a sticky dough develops.
The starch is removed by rinsing the dough, which leaves pure gluten protein that can be flavored and cooked by steaming or in the oven.
Seitan is incredibly high in protein, with 21 grams a serving, low in fat, and good at soaking up different flavors, which makes it a great meat replacement.
What Foods Should Vegetarians Watch Out For?
Most cheese is usually fine for vegetarians, but many contain rennet, the stomach lining of cows and sheep. It is used to separate solid milk from water to form cheese.
It is becoming more common to find vegetarian-friendly versions of rennet used in cheese. Still, certain varieties, like traditional parmesan, must contain animal rennet because of manufacturing guidelines.
Gelatin is another product to look out for, as it is made from boiled animal skin, tendons, and bones. It is usually found in anything jelly-like, including chewy candy, marshmallows, yogurts, and desserts like mousse.
Vegetarians may avoid eating this, or some continue to enjoy their favorite foods due to the low amount of animal products.
4. Soups, Gravy, or Casseroles
It is essential to consider the base stock for things like soups, gravy, or casseroles, as this might contain meat in many instances. Vegetable stock is an excellent alternative and can usually be used interchangeably.
5. Asian Dishes
Some other dishes appear vegetarian but contain meat products, like many Asian dishes that use fish sauce, or other products that contain animal lard, like pastries. Confirming the ingredients used or making your own at home is best.
6. Wine and Beer
Wine and beer may seem vegetarian-friendly, but many use animal products to produce alcohol. This is most common in filtration, where manufacturers use fish swim bladders, gelatin, and casein when making the alcohol.
Wine and beer are becoming more common for companies to outline if their products are vegetarian-friendly, so the best advice is to check the label if this is an issue.
Why Do People Choose a Vegetarian Diet?
The reasons for becoming a vegetarian can often stem from wanting to follow a healthier diet, as there is a focus on consuming more fruits and vegetables.
It can also be due to ethical concerns about the treatment of animals or even environmental reasons due to the impact animal agriculture has on climate change, with significant greenhouse gas emissions, water, and energy use.
Reducing your meat intake has also been shown to lead to lower levels of obesity, resulting in a 35% reduction in the likelihood of developing type-2 diabetes. This is often because those following this diet focus on eating healthy, fresh, whole foods and might even increase their activity levels to improve their overall health.
5. Save Animals
From an environmental perspective, eating vegetarian results in 2.5 times less land being used for agriculture than eating meat and at least 26% fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
One study outlined that, on average, a meat eater consumes 11,000 animals in a lifetime; therefore, a vegetarian diet also saves the lives of many animals.
Final Thoughts on What Foods Do Vegetarians Eat
Always speak with a healthcare professional if you change your diet or eliminate certain foods so they can closely monitor your health and prevent any deficiencies.
Vegetarianism is associated with low iron or B12 levels because of reduced meat intake, which is something to consider.